The day has come

by zara kevorkova

придет день

и я взорву все вокруг

своей сущностью.

надо просто переждать шторм.

[a day will come / and i will blow everything up / with my essence. / just gotta wait out the storm]

A few years ago, my father and I visited the Yerablur Pantheon in Yerevan. Quite a few of my father’s friends, being the veterans of the 1990s Nagorno-Karabakh war, are buried there. Many of them died long after the war; after they lived a long, happy life, filled with adventures and stories told as anecdotes to this day. Many of them have been married at least twice, traveled the world, and seen the country they fought for recover from ashes. 

On the 11th of October, I visited the Yerablur pantheon. A friend of mine, who happened to be a soldier during the new Nagorno-Karabakh War, is buried there now. He died during the war after he lived an unfairly short but happy life, filled with some adventures and a few stories we’ll tell and retell to each other now. He didn’t get to be married or have kids. He traveled the world but never ended up moving to Boston and studying social sciences.

All these people are together now, or at least I believe they are. I believe that my friend is somewhere, looking down on me with a glass of cold rosé and an unlit cigarette in his hands. This is what you have to believe, right? Otherwise, what’s the point? Otherwise, all that is left of a person after his death is a note, written many months prior, a gravestone with two dates, and a few photographs. 

The war started on September 27th, 2020. I found out about it because many people texted me, asking if I am safe. You see, I came back from Stepanakert, the capital of Artsakh, a day before the war began. By mere chance, I forgot to warn my manager about a day off on Friday and had to come back early. Otherwise, I would have stayed until Sunday. Coincidences are a funny thing. 

Two years ago, a friend of mine and I visited our friend Nina in Stepanakert for the first time. We went there as tourists; we visited museums, landmarks, and historical sites. Last year, Nina and I went there to conduct interviews for a university project. 

This year, visiting Stepanakert was an idea I had ever since April, when, thanks to COVID-19, everything went online in a matter of days, and leaving the house stopped being a necessity. Somehow, this adventure kept being delayed for this or that reason. 

And then in September, everything finally fell into place. We packed a suitcase, called Igor (the taxi driver that drove us to Stepanakert and back many times), and next morning at 6 a.m. sharp, we were on our way. 

Diana and I at 8am on our way to Stepanakert.

This year there were three reasons to visit Stepanakert. 

Reason #1 Stepanakert is a city of warmth

soundtrack #1

Stepanakert was the fastest I ever fell in love. After staying there for only a day, you start to feel at home. The city welcomes you with open arms and holds your hand throughout your journey. The people there are warm and will help you no matter what you need. Occasionally, they may even change their plans and walk with you, simply because you asked them for directions.

On one of the days in Stepanakert, my friend’s mom (who open-heartedly welcomed us to her home and treated us like her own daughters for a whole week) gave us a little tour of the city. Among other things, she showed us buildings that, to this day, carry the painful memories of the Karabakh War in the 1990s. When looking at these massive embodiments of socialism, one would think they are impenetrable. But then you start to notice little holes in the walls of these giants. These holes show you how much they have seen and how much more they are ready to endure.

The people in Stepanakert are proud of their city. They fought for their right to live there, and they cherish every inch of it. The brutalist buildings, the noble monuments, and the carefully handcrafted store signs show the effects socialist design had on the city. But right along with the restricted, boxy buildings, you can find captivating street art, bars, where the music doesn’t stop until the last person is gone, and cafes, where everyone can get a warm waffle and a wide variety of teas.

Coincidentally, my Stepanakertsi friend Nina is the owner of a similar cafe. Saying that her cafe is beautiful is a rude understatement. It is cozy and warm, even on cold days, which are not rare in Stepanakert. It is located in the city’s very heart, just a few minutes away from the main square. Frankly speaking, pretty much everything there is located in the heart of Stepanakert. It is a small city, but it’s got a huge heart. 

Nina’s beautiful café called Garden’s. Retrieved from Facebook

Her cafe is warm, not only thanks to the teas, cocktails, and checkered blankets, but also thanks to the people. Each person working in the cafe deserves a separate story written about them. From Angel’s innocent twinkling laugh, Edmon’s loud gentlemanliness, Syuzi’s perfect waffles, to Samvel’s experimental cocktails, all these people are the indivisible part of the cafe’s warmness. 

Reason #2 Stepanakert is a city that brings people together 

soundtrack #2

When Diana and I visited Stepanakert for the first time, we were not very close. We knew each other from university; we met up occasionally and had a few drinks. We shared a few jokes and shared a mutual love for Soviet cartoons. So when we decided to take this trip, we were much more than strangers but a bit less than best friends. After traveling for six hours and spending four days in Stepanakert in 2018, there was no doubt that we would go back to Yerevan closer than ever. After returning to Stepanakert in 2020, we knew that the city would find a way to bring us all even closer. And it surely did.

There we used to walk all the time. Since the city is relatively small, you can get from one end to the other in a few hours. Unless, of course, you don’t get lost. Which Diana and I did, repeatedly. Even after asking for directions, we somehow managed to get confused and appear on the other end of the street. Later we learned the right way to the cafe from home, and we stuck to it until the very last day, refusing to walk through shortcuts.

Despite being away from Yerevan’s hustle, our classes still went on, the deadlines were still in place, and we needed to find somehow the motivation to finish them. It was nearly impossible to find a will to do assignments, when there is so much in the city we haven’t yet seen, when there are so many foods in the cafe we haven’t yet tried, and when there are so many drinks, David still hasn’t given us to try. So logically, we tried to find this motivation in each other. Every day, we would make plans and force each other to follow them. And every day started the same way.

“Девочки [Devochki – girls], today we are not drinking – Nina would say, sitting on the edge of my bed.”

“I agree – Diana would whisper from under her blanket – let’s focus on homework today and finish everything.” 

“Okay, but we should work from the cafe, so we concentrate better – I would say foolishly.”

All three of us knew very well that we would go to the cafe, take out our laptops and start chatting with the staff. Then, when the judgemental empty docs would stare at us for too long, we would say. 

“Okay! No! Let’s finish this!”

And then someone would offer us some food, and the laptops would close with a fair justification that “one can’t work on an empty stomach.” After finishing our food and convincing each other to study, we would do some work. It turns out; you can actually bully someone into studying. But then, as soon as someone gets distracted for even a mere minute, the laptops would close again, and we’d start planning our evening. 

Diana, Nina and I carelessly disregarding our deadlines and rushing to Bardak through a complete fog

We’d always go to Bardak, a bar made from scratch, and run by Azat. The second you enter, the usual tidy, silent Stepanakert is left behind. Bardak is vibrant and loud. Posters from different eras, broken phones, icons, old street signs, and generally anything that comes to mind can be used as design hangs on Bardak’s walls. The bathroom of Bardak is decorated by the customers themselves. Everyone has a chance to leave a note on the bathroom wall and immortalize their presence there. 

Disregarding the promise made in the morning, we would order drinks. David (Bardak’s bartender) would surprise us with a new cocktail every day. And he always promised that if we didn’t like it, he would happily drink it himself. But he didn’t disappoint us even once. He and Azat would drive us home every night since we always stayed until the very last song. 

Stepanakert has a way of bringing closer even people you meet for the first time. After having a drink with them in Stepanakert, be sure you have a friend forever.

Reason #3 Stepanakert is a city of friendship.

soundtrack #3

Nina was not the only friend I came to visit this time. This time, I had another friend waiting for me in the army. He left in January of this year, back when we only knew each other for a short four months. We became friends over our mutual music taste, drinks, and stupid jokes. Later, we got closer when he was in the army.

He awaited this meeting for a long time since he barely saw anyone outside his army mates after being of quarantine. Occasionally Nina would send him sweets and waffles from the cafe, but he really missed Yerevanian candies and his books. So he was not only waiting for me, but also for a chance to finally get his hands on new books and some coffee.

I visited him on the very first day I arrived. Frankly, I didn’t recognize him at first; he had lost a lot of weight. But after a brief five-minute talk, it was easy to realize he was the same old guy that left in January. The same guy, with a few reevaluated worldviews.

We sat in the bushes near their building and talked until two in the morning. We discussed everything, from the Yerevanian drama between mutual friends to philosophical ideas on life itself. We told each other stories that thought would never be disclosed and confessed hilarious secrets that seemed very important before. We went over a bundle of old jokes and memories we both share but remember very differently.

He was finally smoking his favorite cigarettes that another friend of ours asked me to buy at the last minute. We sat there, smoking until two in the morning, and when the topics for reminiscing were done we just sat in silence and listened to mutually adored music.

That night, as we sat in the bushes and glimpsed at people in the windows, we thought of everything we haven’t yet done in our lives. Everything we have been scared to say, feel, or even think about. Every thought we kept in secret because of our tendency to overthink the consequences. Every carefully picked word because we didn’t want others to know too much. We thought of everything we are still meant to do. Every new song we have to discover every new poem we have to learn. Every new heartbreak we have to feel and every new lover we have to find. And then in that night, my friend said this

“You know, a day will come, and I will blow everything up with my essence.”

I know what you are thinking, but don’t worry. He is safe and in Stepanakert. He calls me every now and then and tells me that everything is okay on their end, that they are listening to music, reading poems, and even eating cookies sometimes.

But so many others are not. Here I am, standing in Yerablur, looking down on a grave. A grave of a person who had so many songs to discover, so many poems to learn and so many hearts to fall in love with. I am not trying to find justice or fairness in this anymore. I am done trying to find a reason, a bigger reason for things to happen. Maybe wars happen because people in power are assholes? Maybe battles for lands are simply a game to them? And maybe coincidences are just coincidences and not higher signs of things? Maybe we give too much importance to signs and forget that all that really matters is what is right in front of us. Maybe we think too much. Think about words we say to each other and words we don’t. Life is too short for bullshit like this. It is an old cliché, but in moments like this, you realize it’s true. We spend too much of our lives arguing with each other; too much effort into hiding our essence from people, because we are afraid of something probably stupid. We spend too much time in silence and inaction when we can be yelling the names of our loved ones from rooftops, chasing them down the street, and kissing them in the rain.

That day has come. A day to sit together, strangers, friends, and lovers. Sit with a cup of tea, share our favorite songs and embarrassing memories, reminisce about people who are no longer with us, immortalize them in the stories we will tell and retell to each other. So let’s drink sweet cocktails and rosé wine, let’s cheer to the lives we all have yet to live. And let’s love each other a little stronger every day and scream from the top of our lungs about that endless love in our hearts.

soundtrack #4
left to right – Dima (our new friend), Diana, me, Nina and Yervand.
Stepanakert, Sep. 2020

Rewriting History

By Hena Aposhian

It was a regular unpleasant Sunday morning. My 8 a.m. alarm was going off – I had to get ready for work. Already exhausted, I managed to get out of bed, sip my coffee, and leave the apartment. My walk to the office was quite ordinary; the streets were in their early stages of welcoming citizens, while some leaves were departing their homes having rejected autumn’s authority. As my thoughts started to wander, sitting behind a desk, my co-worker suddenly began uttering pieces of news from a social media platform: “Stepanakert was being shelled at 7 a.m. Azerbaijani forces had launched an invasion along the border. A war has erupted in Artsakh.”

Armenia and Azerbaijan have been in conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh since 1988, yet they have never reached a settlement that would resolve the issue. Till the 27th of September, April 2016 had witnessed the most aggravated escalation on the territory since 1994, which resulted in a four-day war claiming the lives of hundreds from both sides, and eventually was brought to a halt by a ceasefire agreement. However, while violating the agreement, Azerbaijan initiated short-lasting clashes on the borders on more than one occasion.

Back in July, Azerbaijan attacked the border positions in the Tavush region, while Armenia was respecting the peace process. This is why I did not think of the situation as anything THAT serious at first. Nonetheless, as opposed to my intuition, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan announced that martial law and army mobilization is being declared in the country, and several of my friends and acquaintances have volunteered to participate in the war. A fear was awakened in me – a fear I thought had made its final visit in 2012.

Armenian volunteers headed to the war on the morning of September 27.

I was an eyewitness to the bloody civil war in Syria, which caused my family to leave everything behind and seek a safe haven in the forever cherished motherland – Armenia. Today, my motherland, my safe haven is being shaken by yet another bloodthirsty war. It pains me to try to grasp the concept of war; how can the lives of innocent civilians be less valuable than a piece of land? How can people navigate their moral compass and guide themselves towards killing others? How can the defeat and agony of one country produce victory and joy for another? As Brock Chisholm has said: “no one wins a war. It is true, there are degrees of loss, but no one wins.”

The fear inside me keeps on growing as more than two weeks have passed since the Azeris’ initial attack on Artsakh. With no signs of peace, day after day, the conflict is intensified, the death toll is increased, the uncertainty is amplified, and the emotions are on a rollercoaster for most of us. With time, Azerbaijan’s real intentions are getting revealed, as they are not only fighting us on the borders, they are now targeting civilian areas. During the past few days, most of the citizens of Stepankert, capital city of Artsakh, had no choice but to leave and seek shelter in Yerevan, many of which were severely injured, and some were even killed.

An injured civilian in Stepanakert.

We, as Armenians, have endured terrors, traumas and hardships for generations, but we have never given up and have never stopped fighting for our country’s existence and perseverance – this war is no exception.

It hurts for me to realize that we, as a nation, will always have to keep proving ourselves to the world. Everyone across the globe kept silent when the Turks committed the Armenian genocide in 1915, massacred 1.5 million of our ancestors, stripped us from our lands and kicked us out with nowhere to go – we still survived. This time, they will not be able to silence us, nor will we let them be silent. This is a war against not just Armenians, but against humanity as a whole with countries displaying their true nature.

This time, Armenians all over the world are involved by raising awareness on social media platforms, providing relief aid, and going on marches. Our unity and resilience is shining through the chaos. This time, we are conscious of our fight for survival and self-determination, and we will not surrender until the Azeri forces forfeit and Artsakh is internationally recognized as independent.

The Spring

by Nina Shahverdyan

It was a warm sunny morning that day in Stepanakert, one of those when you finally wear a short-sleeved top and mom doesn’t get angry at you― that kind of a sunny morning. I went to school on foot with a classmate of mine, walking through the lively park in the city center, both of us calm and happy, both unaware of what’s going on around. As soon as we entered class, we saw some girls crying and people- in hysteria. Teachers were stressed out. “The war has started,” they said.

The war has started. I didn’t believe that. I couldn’t believe that. The war can’t start in my motherland. It can’t. Not here, not now. Not with me. It was so hard to accept that that I ended up sitting straight and wondering why were all the girls in my class so hysterical. Something happened on the borders, but why would they call it a war? At one point, however, I realized the whole school was mourning, and lots of people were running home. The principal canceled classes after an hour. We were all sent home. “Fast,” she said.

It was April the first, but it wasn’t a joke. 

The war couldn’t start. Yet it did. 

My memories of the rest of the days are chaotic. The only thing that’s clear in my mind is my mom, cleaning the house and washing the windows.

– The war has started,-I said.

– The house should be clean,- she said.

Back then I couldn’t understand her. Why would she clean a house which potentially could be ruined in a few days? Why would she think about cleaning when there is war outside? The answer is so obvious now. She was cleaning the house because it was the only way for her to continue living as always, to pretend that nothing was happening, to stay calm. She had 4 children looking at her―panicking was not an option. My mom was strong. Unlike me.

The only thing I could do was sit on the couch, crying for every name of a perished soldier.

– We have to go to Yerevan, dad. The war has started.

These were the most foolish words I have ever said in my life. My dad looked at me seriously, if not angry, and said, “The war has started. That’s why we should stay here.” And we stayed, while all of my friends moved to Yerevan and stayed there long after the war had finished, afraid to come, afraid to die. 

My eight-year-old brother, who always wanted to become a soldier, told me he changed his mind.

– I don’t want to die, Nina,-he said.

-You should defend your motherland,- I said.

-I don’t want to fight,- he said.

We ended our conversation on that. I was lying on the bed with him, hugging him and trying to tell a fairytale, a happy fairytale. But instead, I was just hugging him tighter and tighter and thinking of a small schoolboy who died that morning because of a bomb. 

Children shouldn’t die. Children shouldn’t worry. And yet that was the only thing my brother saw: people in panic. That’s when I decided I don’t want to become president anymore: I abandoned a childhood dream. I had it for 16 years. 

I imagined me being the first female president in Armenia, imagined being the first one who will solve the Artsakh issue, imagined being the first to get rid of poverty in the whole country. I had a utopic understanding of politics back then, a strong belief that just one good politician can save a country. I dreamt to be that one politician. I dreamt to see Armenia great again, as great as it was during the era of Tigran Mets, one of the most powerful kings of ancient Armenia. Well, turns out, dreams don’t come true.

I asked my dad why wars happen. He said it’s because of politics. I got sad. Politics have the power to establish peace and yet they choose to end the lives of people whose only guilt is to be of a certain nation.

– I wish our president knew about what would happen,- I said, – he could prepare and stop the Azerbaijanis.

My dad looked at me seriously, if not pitifully. “ All of them knew, Nina, all of them knew.” 

Something broke inside of me. Something very special, very important. I didn’t feel complete. I didn’t feel like myself. I didn’t understand myself. I didn’t understand our presidents. How can a president know that foes will attack and yet do nothing? Why do they call themselves presidents? A president thinks about his country, a president cares.

– How can a person be so cruel, dad? – I asked.- How could they know and still let them do that? How could they know and still not prepare? How could they do that to our country, dad?”

-They didn’t have other options,- he said, -They were forced to.

The truth is, our world is very messed up. You aren’t free. You aren’t independent. It doesn’t matter if you are a teacher at school, a manager in a restaurant or president of a country. There is always somebody more powerful standing above you. It doesn’t matter if your ideas and beliefs are pure. It doesn’t matter that you care and have strong feelings towards something. There is always somebody who benefits from that and for whom you are just a pawn on the chessboard. A pawn he can sell to get more money. 

The April War made me reconsider all my decisions. I thought a lot, I suffered a lot on my journey to accepting the reality, but I had to clash with it, didn’t I? The results of my inner exploration brought me to a clear conclusion: I decided not to become a president. The presidency doesn’t give you freedom of action and doesn’t give you the power to change things you don’t like.

Am I running away from my problems? I am. Am I feeling guilty for that? I do. But sometimes saving a country becomes too hard, especially if you are a young girl with very fragile feelings and a strong sense of justice, which is impossible to reach in this world. 

Creating Miracles

Since childhood, I have this weird habit of doing what I am afraid of. In this way, I overcame my fear of crossing bridges, riding a bicycle, and using elevators when I was still 5. That is how I proved myself that there was nothing in this world worth to be scared of. I have changed during the years, but my childhood habit hasn’t. I still keep trying every single thing, which seems extreme, adventurous, and somehow scary to me. There was a period in my life when I had acrophobia (an irrational fear of heights), thus, I decided to go hiking in the mountains.

Indeed, my parents were against my decision, as along with the willingness to overcome my fear I should have had adequate physical and mental preparation, be used to sleeping in tents, and get along with less than “fancy” meals (cheese, bread, and apples only for several days) during the hike. Finally, I got my parents’ approval, and this was how my “career” as a hiker started. I went hiking for at least two-three times a year. I did not cease hiking even after overcoming my phobia of heights. Hiking was challenging, fun, and strengthened me as a personality. Undoubtedly, I faced both mental and physical difficulties, started crying, and wished I was at home watching TV or reading a book.

Hiking is fun, yet dangerous!

I regretted hiking after freezing sleepless nights, exhausted evenings, or sultry afternoons when being burnt under the sun. I regretted my decision when being under the pressure of my backpack, weighing almost as much, as I did. I regretted hiking when the symptoms of my allergy showed up. I regretted hiking whenever I realized I am not cold-resistant at all. However, I continued to make this “mistake” over and over whenever having the chance. There was no doubt: I enjoyed hiking. Over time it became one of the few things I am passionate about. I often separate my life into stages: before and after hiking. Hiking made me conscious of my weaknesses and strengths. It helped me not to cease raising.

 Last summer I was hiking with some friends in the Gegham mountains. It was the first time in my life I spent three days in the mountains. I was sure it would be amusing, far from noisy people and urban mess, which I wanted to avoid so much. I wished hiking would make me feel more harmonious with myself, as during the whole summer, I worked with an extremely overloaded schedule without any leisure time to spend with family or friends. I was ready for almost everything. Almost.

The first two days of our hike passed so quickly that I do not remember anything except me collecting wildflowers and enjoying the view. However, the flaw of events changed drastically, and we had to set up the tents earlier than we planned. My shoes were not holding up, and I could hardly keep walking. I got some severe foot injuries. I felt like it was the last day I could stand on my feet. I started imagining what I could and could not do if I was not able to walk anymore. I could not dance. I could not run under the autumn rain and jump at my favorite people when seeing them after long breaks. I started crying. With these thoughts in my mind, I swallowed some painkillers and sleeping pills without water (as all my bottles were empty) and fell asleep.

 I was almost asleep but could hear some frequent and intense beats of hard rock music. There was so much drive and energy surrounding me. A few seconds later, I felt myself in a pool calmly swimming on my back.

Suddenly I heard a feminine voice crying.

“Anush, our tent is leaking. I am so afraid of thunderstorms. Please, do something!” she screamed.

I opened my eyes. Britney, my tent mate, was crying and yelling hysterically, while both our backpacks and sleeping bags were all in water. “What’s going on, jan? Where are the other guys?” I asked in a supportive voice.

“I have no clue. Their tent was next to ours. But I can’t find the tent. Maybe the storm blew the tents away?” Britney answered stressfully.

I was shocked. My feet, back, and hair was all in water. I took all of my clothes from my backpack and soaked at the edges of the tent. The roof of the tent was leaking too.  I tried to put one of my hands with a dry jacket under the hole in the roof by simultaneously cleaning the water collected at the edges of tents. Britney and I were doing our best to keep the sleeping bags as dry as possible. Both of us started coughing. And I started laughing hysterically when remembered my dream and the associations of our tent with Noah’s ark.

“God will save us,” I said. Britney was also an atheist, and we started laughing together.

When the rainy storm finally ended, I fell asleep from exhaustion immediately.

The next morning was the depiction of a gorgeous view after the flood portrayed in in my imagination as a biblical scene. I couldn’t help staring at the sky and wondering about how incredibly stunning nature is. When I came back into the stage of consciousness, I found out that the tents of others did not disappear. The guys just noticed that the location of their tents was windy and moved a few metres away from us.

The stunning view after the rain

Unfortunately, even after this incident, I did not start to believe in miracles others created for me.

But, fortunately, I realized that we create our own miracles and experience them every single minute of our existence.

The combination of miracles we create is life itself.

Table to Table: Climbing the Social Food Chain

When I was little my favorite thing in the world, besides Doritos and stickers of characters from Winx, was family gatherings. For some godforsaken reason, seeing my family was an exhilarating experience for me. I loved dressing up for it, planning my outfits in my head the night before and putting corresponding jewelry out on my desk: necklaces, bracelets, earrings and everything. I was thrilled to hear their comments about how pretty my floral dress is with that round halter-neck, and how much I’ve grown and matured. As a child you’re always in the center of your family’s attention; the adults want to know about your big, bright dreams and your future plans. But being the child also means being sent to the kids’ table.

The kids’ table phenomenon has always been a thing in my family, and its sole purpose was to keep the loud younger generation away from the sophisticated adult conversations about the corrupt government, the suffering and unfortunate zhoghovurd and the awful, awful influence of the West. As kids, my sister and I were always sent to this isolated table along with our cousins, and even though we did have fun together, in the back of my mind I couldn’t help but think, what are the older people talking about? Why don’t they want us there next to them? I can’t wait to be older, so I don’t miss out on all their mysterious and mature conversations.

Back when I only qualified for the kids’ table

Then one day, all of a sudden, my uncles and aunts began calling my sister over to their table (she’s three years older than me). This happened more and more frequently, until one time, she casually joined that table without them asking, like it was second nature. I didn’t know what to make of this at first. Obviously, I couldn’t blame her (not that I wanted to) because it made sense – she had grown. She qualified. She was too old for us. But, if you ask me, she was also too young to be with the adults. Gathering after gathering, she sat with them, soaking up all the drama that has apparently been present among our older family members since prior to our existence. We’d go home, and she’d tell me all about it.

One time, she had so much to say, she was a little out of breath at the end, “okay, so apparently uncle owes money to aunt’s husband and that’s why they won’t be attending his birthday. And this is not even the first time they had a conflict. Remember that time when cousin wore that super short dress to Lusine’s wedding, and uncle told her to go change? Yeah, well, then she told auntie, and auntie talked to him and told him not to boss her daughter around, and uncle was annoyed. It all basically snowballed from there.”

These petty stories happened regularly, and there came a time when I began to notice them, right as they were happening. It was difficult to see an end to this chain of passive aggressive behavior. One time, we were all at my dad’s parents’ country house, and I remember my grandma said to my uncle’s wife, “you know, the other day, I made mashed potatoes, too, and I made an impromptu decision to add some scallions and peas into the mix, and it turned out to be incredible. You should try that some time.”

We all used to have mutual friends, and we’d see each other at their birthdays and weddings, too. During one of these weddings, I remember the first thing the bride told me was, “oh sweetie, looking healthy and full! Did you quit the diet?”

There was also a constant, desperate need to compare each other’s wealth. One time, my cousin said to our other cousin, “yeah, so this summer we pretty much toured all over Europe, we went to Disneyland in Paris, then visited Brussels for a while, and the last destinations were Amsterdam and Rotterdam! So, how was Tbilisi?”

Why do we lose our sincerity as we grow older? What is it about the “real world” that makes people this way? Honesty and bluntness are considered to be childish traits. Today, if you’re an adult (whatever that may mean) you must fight in a way that wouldn’t be perceived as fighting from an objective viewpoint, you should never say what you actually mean and you have to make sure you complain about how fake everyone around you is, at least once every day. When I first started to pick up on all these patterns, it broke my heart a little. I refused to believe that this is what I had desperately wanted to be a part of. I guess things sort of worked out in my favor, because as I unwillingly improved at seeing through my family’s bullshit, we stopped hanging out so frequently. We became too busy for one another. There were other priorities. Years went by and we didn’t meet up, no one called, no one made a peep. Until my grandmother’s death on January 11th of 2019.

Grandma had cancer. We all visited her regularly, but separately. She had spent a little over a week in the hospital before she passed away. My mother was mute for an entire day after she had received the call from the hospital.

We weren’t talking to my uncle at the time, but we knew he had leukemia. His condition was becoming worse with each passing day, so my grandmother would pray for his recovery every morning and every night, whispering under her breath, “please God, give his sickness to me.” And believe it or not, God did. My uncle’s treatments began to help him, and grandma got ascites out of nowhere. There was usual amounts of fluid in her stomach, to a point where it was difficult for her to breathe. Every day she had spent in the hospital, the doctors pumped out liters of liquid from her abdomen. It’s difficult to recall much of anything from the time we found out about her death, all the way to her funeral. But the funeral I will never forget. Relatives I didn’t even know existed had shown up.

I guess it’s true what they say – death really brings people together. The first time in over three years I saw my favorite cousin was near our grandmother’s corpse. The cousin I used to like better than my own sister, because she’d let me do whatever I wanted, even if I was wrong. The cousin that could easily lift up my mood. The cousin I had no idea how to approach when I saw her standing next to grandma’s casket. I didn’t know if I should smile, give her a hug and tell her I’m happy to see her, or awkwardly nod from a distance. I did neither. I simply walked up to her and said, “Hi.” She responded with a “Hi” and after a long stare, we parted ways. It hit me in that moment that I wasn’t even happy to see her. I realized I hadn’t missed her, but rather the memories of our good times together. I missed being careless and unaware. I craved the cluelessness I knew I could never regain. Though, there is some sort of wicked beauty to that.

After everyone left the church, my family, grandpa and three of my uncles along with their families drove to grandma’s house. We were having a family gathering. I was in the kitchen helping prepare for dinner, when I heard it: the unforgettably familiar noise of chitchat from the next room; recognizable voices talking over each other, interrupting each other. The harsh, consonant-heavy pronunciation of Armenian almost made it sound like they were arguing in there. I managed to identify a few laughs among the bickering. I walked into the living room with a plate of cheese cut into tiny cubes in my hands, and noticed that not one of them had changed the fragrance they’d been using for all these years. I strained my eyes to keep the tear in my right eye from dripping onto the cheese.

After the food was set and the small talk had broken the ice, we all gathered at the tables. Without a second thought, I sat with the adults. It felt like second nature. There were many toasts made to grandma that night. “May God illuminate her soul,” they would say. If I were a kid at the time, I’d be sitting at a different table trying to figure out if eating six pickles on an empty stomach was a good idea. Instead, I spent the night trying to figure out why in the world I was so drawn to this table, why I craved to be included in these discussions. Unconsciously, the separation of the children and the adults makes these kids feel like they are not worthy to be where the adults are – where, supposedly, all the interesting conversations occur. They get used to being moved to the side and “letting the adults speak,” as my grandpa likes to say. As if the adults are more important than them, as if switching your table is an upgrade. This mentality damages children’s self-esteem, hence later in life they find it difficult to be heard. We are all human and we should all be put at the same table, no matter how long the table has to be. I wonder if at some point there will be a table for the elderly, because they’re just too boring and can’t hear you anyway. We never really stop going from table to table, huh? That night, sitting there in adult company, I caught myself thinking, what are the kids talking about over there?